The make do and mend mentality has long been synonymous with wartime rationing but now, thanks to Blackhorse Workshop, it is becoming more fashionable to dig out the overalls and revitalise our old possessions. Situated in a former industrial warehouse off Blackhorse Lane, the workshop has become a centre of creativity and craftsmanship in an area once deemed ‘a poor business environment’ by the local authority.
With funding from Waltham Forest Council, Assemble and CREATE, Blackhorse Workshop offers dedicated workspace for residents of E17 and beyond. A key feature is its accessibility, with pay-as-you-go bench space available and membership schemes in place for those undertaking long-term projects. The wide range of hand and power tools for use make it a valuable resource for the experienced, but regular inductions, introductory classes and technicians on hand to assist make Blackhorse Workshop a welcoming place for the novice and professional alike.
Harriet Warden, Blackhorse Workshop’s Creative Director, thinks accessibility is the key to their success and is proud of the diverse demographic that they attract. “It’s great to be somewhere where there is such a broad spectrum of projects being made. We get retired tradesmen doing DIY working alongside recent graduates making wooden bike frames.” In particular, many home improvement projects are brought to their doorstep. It’s a common first step for those new to the maker movement, but Harriet believes there’s more to its appeal than cost-cutting: “With our growing dependency on computers, there’s a huge amount of knowledge that has skipped a generation. There’s a need to reconnect with using our hands to build and create. [We’re] encouraging people to rediscover those manual skills that are so important to understanding design.” They are also encouraging people to look at things from a different perspective; recently the “Take a Mallet to a Pallet” challenge invited the community to transform discarded pallets into something new. Entries varied from the practical, such as shelving units, to the downright outlandish, like a telescope.
Reinvention and rejuvenation has emanated from the workshop to its surroundings. Last year, design firm ‘We Made That’ transformed Blackhorse Lane’s streetscape to reflect the idiosyncrasies of its local businesses. Upon exiting Blackhorse Road station, a mural proudly declares that you are in ‘the home of those who make and create’, but as word about the workshop spreads, E17 is becoming much more than that. “Affordable open access workshops are still quite hard to find in London” Harriet reveals. “Designers are travelling from south London and even as far as Oxford, which is definitely not something we anticipated.”
It’s not only the volume, but the calibre of designer that raises eyebrows: Lola Lely Studio recently took up a residency in the workshop, for projects in collaboration with Allen Jones’ retrospective at the Royal Academy. Word has even spread as far as Bristol, with custom cigar-box guitar company Drummond & Hammet using the space to hold a guitar making workshop.
As it has grown, the “workshop” moniker doesn’t quite evoke the range of activity within. It is also home to a number of food and drink startups, and there’s no better time to sample their wares than at the monthly makers’ market. It’s a time when dozens descend on the workshop’s courtyard to sample comestibles from in-house bakery The Fermentarium and sausage stews from VOL: Dutch Smokery, a horsebox converted into a mobile smokery at the workshop itself. After washing it down with a brew of choice from either Wood Street Coffee or Left Bank Brewery, you can head inside to browse stalls selling homemade jewellery and furnishings whilst enjoying an eclectic soundtrack provided by resident DJs/publicans Wine & Vinyl. The market is especially popular with families, with activities tailored towards children to ensure the maker bug bites early!
Considering what Blackhorse Workshop has achieved, it’s staggering to remember that it only celebrated its first birthday in February this year. The ensuing bash saw homebrew pyrotechnics in the form of a giant birthday candle: a wireframe “1” filled with firewood and handwritten wishes from local children. There was lots of talk about how far the workshop has come and where it hopes to go, with expansion plans already afoot; “We recently put in an application for a new education space. Unfortunately, lots of schools are getting their workshop spaces cut, so there is a really important role for us to play to ensure that kids have a relationship with and understanding of how things get made.” Before the burning of the birthday bonfire, Harriet spoke of the community around them, and the support they have received from those closest to home. At its heart, it is a space shaped by community collaboration and gestures both big and small. Blackhorse Workshop has formed a co-dependant relationship with Walthamstow in, all considered, a remarkably short period of time, and E17 waits with baited breath for what they’re going to make of 2015 and beyond.
Words and Photos: James Tabbinor